Pastor Rachel Livingston 

I. Beginning

Peace – Peace I bring to you in the name of Jesus Christ! For Jesus is the messiah, the one who brings salvation, the Son of God. The one who brings peace in the midst of chaos, the one who is peace himself.  Last week we entered into this season of Advent, this season of expectant waiting, this season of waiting for the celebration of the birth of that Christ-child, the season of waiting for the movement of Christ to be revealed within this season, this season of waiting for the return of our King, Jesus Christ, this season that brings the joy and the hope of waiting, but also the pain and discomfort of waiting.  We have the opportunity to grow in this time as we wait in this moment, this moment of the dark, black, richness of night, waiting in the darkness as the stars become a companion of guidance to Jesus, waiting in the darkness as angelic beings guide  with the comforting words that say do not be afraid, waiting for the revelation of the King, Jesus Christ, who reveals himself in the vulnerability of a child in a stable, laid in a manger.  But yet we are also waiting in the dark richness of the night, the blackness of our life, but it is not a darkness of depression, but a darkness of feeling the present of now and the calming presence of resting, the darkness that covers us with an internal hope of listening and watching as we wait, and the darkness that is a companion as we wait for the  joy of a morning sun that is yet to come with great possibilities and redemption.  In this moment of waiting, this season of Advent, if we have learned anything from the Christmas story we see that the rich, blackness of the dark of the night can be a moment of vulnerability that connects us to God, it can be a moment of guidance to the light, and it can be a moment of peace.  We stand in this moment, this moment of the darkness, this moment of waiting, opening up ourselves in vulnerability and resting in God’s peace, watching and waiting for the transformational presence that is Jesus Christ, revealing himself to us in the world.
As we started this season of waiting, last week, we saw that Jesus Christ is our hope, our active, living hope that has brought such transformation in the biblical tradition, in our lives today, and brings hope to our future that has yet to be. But this morning, this miraculous morning, we acknowledge that Christ is, not only our hope, but our peace.  What indeed a unique and significant statement that is, that Jesus Christ is our peace! Jesus is our PEACE in the midst of sorrow! Which doesn’t means that Jesus will take away the sorrow we have, for sorrow is a natural human reaction, but Jesus is the comforting presence that gives us peace, the one who doesn’t prevent the tears from falling but brings renewal and cleansing waters that can reinvigorate the soul.  In the midst of a heavy heart, Jesus grants peace that claims he knows our burdens and our pain, that when we cry, he cries along with us.  Jesus is the PEACE in the midst of a storm! For it is Jesus who can calm the roaring of the waves, who can calm the torrential winds that beat upon us, it is Jesus who can look in the face of the storm and say, “Peace, Be Still.”  But it is also Jesus who can bring a sense of peace, a sense of comfort, even when all that surrounds seems to beat upon us, we can go to God and know that PEACE is in God’s presence.  Even in a chaotic world, where gun violence is rampant within certain cities of this country, where brother and sister are torn against one another,  where people are distrustful of one another, where people are worried about what the future holds, where people experience the destruction of people and homes – Jesus Christ is the peace that can grant redemption and salvation from this chaos – the name above other names whose ministry and work seeks to bring peace in the midst of all things.  Jesus is the salvation that literally brings peace to the world.

 II. The Good News of Jesus Christ

We approach our gospel this morning as it presents the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.  It proclaims that this tells the story of Jesus Christ, the one who is the messiah, the coming Lord.  Mark is believed to be the first gospel written, the gospel that informed the other gospel writings.  So it was the first to document any biographical knowledge of our precious Lord, Jesus Christ – the first to present the hope that is Jesus Christ. And yet, as we look at this scripture in this Christmas season, we recognize that at its beginning, the opening words of this book of the Bible, there is no birth narrative; there is no flowery story that tells of a virgin birth; no angels; no shepherds taking watch over their fields by night;  no wise men carrying gold, frankincense, and myrrh; no star guiding the travelers to the child who lay in a manger, a feeding trough within a stable; no angel who meets the parents to be, telling them of the significance of this Christ child.  Nothing. There is absolutely no mention of the birth of Christ at all.  It may not invoke the endearing images that we associate with the Christmas season, but it is very much an advent scripture.  It is a prologue that introduces the savior that we wait for.  It gives the basic knowledge of the hero in our unfolding story.  As Mark was written for an oral tradition, these verses we look at today in our prologue, orient the hearers to what they are about o hear, what will come in the approaching story.

This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the son of God.

The scripture then acknowledges the prophecy of the savior to come and how there will be one to pave the way of the Lord, the coming messiah, the Prince of peace that we know to be Jesus Christ. This person paving the way is pointed out to be John the Baptist.

John had dedicated his life to the ways of God.  He had gone out into the desert and focused himself, in a counter-cultural life-style, so that he might better focus on life with God.  He left the confusion of a chaotic oppressive Empire to live in the peace of deep connection with God out in the wilderness. He opened the path that he could make a genuine connection uninhibited by the noises of the world around him.

 III. The State of the Jewish People

It is of note that the Jews of this time were living under a state of occupation.  They lived in the land, but they were under the control of the Roman Empire, an oppressive structure that sought to gain power over the entire world.  Rome valued the progression of the Empire over everything, lifting up the supreme reign of the Emperor – valuing the rich and wealthy, while everyone else was strangled by the weight of the empire on their necks and left to their own devices.   All those who were not in power, were seen as people of no legitimate concern with no specific rights. The Jews were subjects of a ruling empire, they were on the low-end of the totem pole, forced to pay taxes to a government that saw them as less than. Even Jesus was a subject of the empire, not a citizen and not considered to have any specific rights bestowed by the Roman Empire.  Tax-collectors were so hated because they had betrayed their own people and worked in allegiance to the power that oppressed them and participated in the oppression of their own people.  The Jewish people lived under the guise of being a problem, a nuisance, a being that was just there to rule over.  In the midst of all this they needed peace, they needed solace, they needed a Prince of peace. The people had been promised a messiah that would grant them salvation and redemption.  They needed this messiah to relieve them of their oppressive reality to bring them new hope and peace that takes them out of their mess.  They needed some sense of new life that would take them out of the stressful chaotic nature of what was.

 IV. Looking For Peace

So, people from the whole Judean country-side and those from Jerusalem came out to the John the baptizer, the one in the desert.  His clothing of camelhair and his leather belt were reminiscent of Elijah because these were what the oral tradition said Elijah had worn.  The people were looking for peace, some sense of renewal. The tradition had taught them that they should be looking for a return of Elijah, a sign of the end of the age, a sign of new hope.  Maybe just maybe this man in the desert who reminded them so much of Elijah was in fact the thing they were looking for, maybe this John the Baptizer was him. They wanted a renewal of God’s redemption. And John the Baptizer seemed to be the closest thing to that. Maybe he was the return of Elijah, or maybe not, but if a sense of peace was going to come the people were likely convinced that it would surely come from him. If he wasn’t the return of Elijah, if he wasn’t the one they had been waiting for, then maybe he could point them where to turn for the peace they were longing for.  Maybe he was the one they had been searching for, maybe he was the peace in the midst of sorrow, the peace in the chaotic world, the peace for a heavy heart, the peace that corrects the harms of oppression in their lives.

 V. John Points The Way To Christ

But yet, John reveals himself as the one who paves the way, he is not the solution that they seek, but that they must wait for another.  Wait for the messiah, Jesus, the Son of God. For he will bring something much greater.  He brings the greatness of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the renewal of the soul that claims us as the people of God, the moment of reinvigoration with the Holy Spirit that symbolizes the much need reconnection with God.  He brings the presence of the calming peace that changes the way things are to the way things should be.  He is the very presence of peace himself.  We are not worthy to untie his sandal, to be the servant that washes his feet, but he is coming and he grants us peace.  In some ways the people are left in this place of darkness, a place of waiting once more.  But again this place of darkness, this place of brilliant, beautiful blackness, is still a place of comfort, a place of hope, because even in the midst of this moment God sends the message clearly that what you seek is just on the horizon, watch and wait because what has been promised is on its way.

 VI. We Are In Need Of Peace

We live in a world where in many ways we are caught in the midst of chaos. And people are waiting for Christ.  Some don’t know they are waiting for Christ, but they are definitely searching for the peace that only Jesus Christ can provide.  We live in a world where we have sat in the midst of a pandemic for about 9 months, a majority of 2020.  And in the wake of this pandemic, we have had loved ones get sick, we have lost some loved ones, we have had to stay away from one another, we have missed the chance to make memorable moments, we have had to limit our travel, and we have had to rethink the way we do things in this world.  And yet as we hear reports of the pandemic the numbers only seem to be rising and states have put more restrictions on us to maintain our safety. I will admit that watching the news and hearing reports of COVID is depressing.  And the heaviness of all the world seems like an unbearable burden to carry.   It is no secret that the world is in a place where we are seeking peace, peace that brings healing, peace that brings relief in the midst of us not being ok in all this, peace of a brighter tomorrow.  Again, in all this we are looking for the peace of Christ.  There has been protests, riots, and social unrest in our nation, all to the existence of racial injustice within the world, a racial injustice that did not just begin today.  In the midst of this, we are looking for peace, peace that rests the unrest, peace that brings justice in the midst of chaos, peace that eliminates the problem altogether, peace that quiets the streets, and peace softens hearts.  There is no doubt that we are looking for peace that only Jesus can provide in this world.

VII. We Point The Way To Christ

In our Biblical story, John was the one who prepared the way for the Lord, who pointed the way for Christ’s coming.  And now in this present age, as we wait for Christ’s return in the essence of his movement in the world, and we wait for Christ’s physical return, we as the people of God, who know Christ intimately must be here to point the world to Christ, in the ministry that we do.  We are to make space for the way of the Lord, to point those in the world to the peace of Christ that they might be looking for but cannot identify. We are to point the world to the way of salvation, we are to point the world to Christ’s redemption, we are to point the world to Christ’s liberation, we are to point the world to the peace that transcends all the chaos that we experience.  We are like John in our scripture.  That doesn’t mean we are to go out into the desert and eat locusts and honey, but it does mean that we should actively dedicate our lives to hearing what God is saying.  And it may mean that we live in ways that are counter-cultural to our society.  It means that we are to make space in our church and our ministry for those who have been forgotten.  It means reaching into our community to affirm that God is present and among us, through a kind gesture, or the creation of a program that reaches into and meets the needs of the community. It means extending our hand in mission work that feeds the homeless or gives freedom for the captive – those held captive in the structures of society that have caused them stress, turmoil, and burdened. It means giving, with a faithful heart, with our tithes and offerings, that the work of God might be done within the church to draw people into Christ. It means being the presence of Christ in the world.  It means letting the world know that this little church with the big heart loves all people and wants them to feel affirmed in Christ, created in the image of God, in this space.  It means proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world so that they can know that Jesus is our salvation, Jesus is our peace.  Jesus is the peace that exists that brings hope to THIS chaotic world.

VIII. Jesus Is Peace

Jesus was the peace that came on a quiet night in Bethlehem.  Jesus was the peace that transformed the lives of the disciples.  Jesus was the peace that spent time with the social outcast and affirmed their being.  Jesus was the peace that exorcised the Gerasene demoniac – the world had given up on him and let him remain in the land of the death cutting and bruising himself – and Jesus came to bring him peace.  Jesus was the peace for the Samaritan woman at the well who was living in situation of desperation as she clung to the men that would give her the status that society had denied her. Jesus granted her peace with offering her the living water in the midst of a world that continuously provided her with a desert.  Jesus was the peace when the people were ready to stone the woman who committed adultery, while somehow letting her accomplice go free.  And in this moment, Jesus brought peace as he told those who gathered to look at themselves and those without sin be the one to cast the first stone.  Jesus brought peace that saved the woman’s life and rejected the notion of oppression in the world that labeled her the villain and the tainted.  Jesus was peace when he offered himself up as a sacrifice for a world that was separated from God – he was the peace that brought reconciliation.  Jesus was the peace that resurrected from the dead and brought new life, brought salvation, brought redemption – Jesus brought the peace that erases all evil and transforms the world.  Jesus Christ is the peace that brings hope for tomorrow.  In all that is happening in the world we as the people of God point the way to the presence of Christ, that is the source of peace for our world today.  Because Jesus is the only source of peace that the world seeks.

May we live in the peace of Jesus Christ! Amen!